My question is coming from a Protestant / Evangelical perspective.

I've always been taught that once one is saved, nothing and no one can snatch him from the Father's hand. That is to say, one cannot lose one's salvation. Now, we know from the parable of the seeds that there are those who come enthusiastically to Christ and then gradually lose interest as the cares of the world 'choke out' their initial interest. That case is pretty clear cut; These people were never saved to begin with.

But the parable of the Unforgiving Servant is different. In this story, the master (God) grants the servant (us) full forgiveness. But the servant's hardness of heart towards those in his debt leads the master to revoke the forgiveness He previously provided, and hand that servant over to be tortured (hell) until the servant's debt is paid in full (for eternity presumably, since our debt to God can never be paid via our own work).

This parable is a bit bewildering to me, to be completely honest. This doesn't appear to be a case of a man who was offered salvation and then demonstrated his rejection of that offer through his lack of good works (i.e. a forgiving attitude toward his peers). Instead, this appears to be a man who had earnestly repented, received salvation, stumbled immediately out of the gate in the sanctification department, and then had the offer of salvation completely revoked as a result.

GotQuestions, which I typically turn to for information on parables, doesn't seem to address the issue at all. So I'll ask the question here: Does the parable of the Unforgiving Servant have implications re: "once saved, always saved" ?

I'm looking for an answer from those who hold the view of "Once Saved, Always Saved" or are familiar with it.

  • 1
    Not everyone accepts that the torment described is eternal judgment. Some have taken it to mean a chastening in this life.
    – Nigel J
    Oct 28, 2019 at 7:40
  • You qualify in the last paragraph ”Once Saved, Always Saved" or are familiar with it. I am entirely familiar and intimately acquainted with OSAS yet I don’t ascribe to it in the Calvinist sense. Could you further qualify if you are only interested in a practicing Calvinist perspective or a perspective favorable to the Calvinist view, in other words are you interested in a Biblical view. Thank you. (I am not a Calvinist, Arminian, Traditionalist).
    – Autodidact
    Oct 30, 2019 at 17:07
  • christianity.stackexchange.com/q/57208/23657. Related same question different parable
    – Kris
    Oct 31, 2019 at 16:02
  • The reason the Got Questions article about this parable did not address the question of "once saved, always saved" is because the parable is not about that. Try this article: gotquestions.org/once-saved-always-saved.html
    – Lesley
    Nov 24, 2019 at 9:50

3 Answers 3


What the parable teaches

Jesus's parables are not comprehensive systematic theology lectures. They teach particular things through analogies but without telling the whole story. What this parable teaches us is:

  1. That our sin is like a zillion dollar debt that we owe to God. It is so immense we can hardly put a number to it, and there is no possible payment plan we could make to repay it.

  2. That God forgives our debt in its entirety because he is supremely compassionate.

  3. That we are not immediately freed from the power of sin, and acquiescing to the temptation of not forgiving our brothers and sisters is so serious that it should make us seriously question whether we have been saved and are living in a way that accords with what God has done for us.

But this parable does not teach us everything about God's forgiveness. In fact, if all you knew of God's forgiveness was this parable, it could lead you to a fundamentally broken understanding of that forgiveness. Because God does not actually just waive our debt with a wave of the hand.

The foundation of the doctrine of the perseverance of the saints

The only reason why our debt to God can be forgiven is because his son took on our debt himself. And to pay our zillion dollar debt it cost him the only thing infinitely valuable in the universe, himself. Whenever we come across something which seems odd theologically, one of the first questions to ask is "where is the cross?" This parable has no cross, so that shows us that it cannot be a comprehensive explanation of God's forgiveness.

To understand how Christ's death on the cross enables our forgiveness we have to understand that in the centre of Reformed Theology is the doctrine of Union with Christ. In faith we are united to Jesus Christ by the holy spirit. This union is what applies all of Christ's works to us. In being united to Christ he takes our debt on himself, and not just the debts of all our past sins, but all the debts of our future sins as well. To stretch the financial analogy, being united to Christ is like us having a single joint bank account with him; once he has paid our debt God can only look in our account and see the positive balance of Christ's faithful obedience to God and his law.

Union with Christ also solves the tension of the warning over falling away. It is our being united to Christ that effects our transformation and conformity to Christ; we do not become more like Christ through our own effort, but through God making us be like him. And we know that in this life sin still remains, there will always be temptations, and we will never stop giving into some of them. But with the indwelling Holy Spirit as the guarantee of our eternal salvation and glorification (2 Cor 5:4-5) we can be confident that we won't be lost even if we do sin by not forgiving others. But sin is still extremely serious; it not only grieves God, but eventually it will have to be purged as we go through the furnace of death before being resurrected as sinless new creations (1 Cor 3:11-15).

I think this passage from Colossians 2 shows how all these threads are tied together. Reading this and the parable together will give us a much more well rounded understanding of the forgiveness of God.

For the entire fullness of God’s nature dwells bodily in Christ, and you have been filled by him, who is the head over every ruler and authority. You were also circumcised in him with a circumcision not done with hands, by putting off the body of flesh, in the circumcision of Christ, when you were buried with him in baptism, in which you were also raised with him through faith in the working of God, who raised him from the dead. And when you were dead in trespasses and in the uncircumcision of your flesh, he made you alive with him and forgave us all our trespasses. He erased the certificate of debt, with its obligations, that was against us and opposed to us, and has taken it away by nailing it to the cross. (Colossians 2:9-14, CSB)

  • 1
    It’s interesting that with a wave of the hand you have annulled the parable to no longer say what it said in order that it fit the Calvinist extra-Biblical interpretation of TULIP and OSAS. The Bible reads clear as day ” “Then his master summoned him and said to him, 'You wicked servant! I FORGAVE you all that debt because you pleaded with me.” ‭‭Matthew‬ ‭18:32‬ that “zillion debt” can only be forgiven by grace THROUGH faith IN Jesus Christ. Your answer is accurate as far as Calvinism is concerned and you deserve a +1 for its accuracy but as it pertains to the Bible it falls short.
    – Autodidact
    Oct 30, 2019 at 17:00
  • If you don’t know what I am referring to it’s point 3 * That we are not immediately freed from the power of sin, and acquiescing to the temptation of not forgiving our brothers and sisters is so serious that it should make us seriously question whether we have been saved and are living in a way that accords with what God has done for us.* The parable clearly says the debt was ‘past tense’ forgiven. Jesus says enter through the narrow gate AND walk on the path. Getting a scholarship to Oxford doesn’t guarantee a degree unless the path is taken to its completion. Phi2:12 Mat24:13.
    – Autodidact
    Oct 30, 2019 at 17:17
  • @Autodidact It's a parable. The man in the story was completely forgiven yes, but you are not that man. We have to think carefully in order to apply the parable to ourselves.
    – curiousdannii
    Oct 30, 2019 at 21:03
  • Or if you want a 100% correspondence between the man and us (even though I think that's misusing the parable) here it is: if God forgave us with a simple wave of his hand, then we could lose it if we ever sinned again. Calvinists would support that statement completely. But it ignores the work of Christ on the cross so it does not apply to us 100%.
    – curiousdannii
    Oct 30, 2019 at 21:41
  • “because you pleaded with me” is important because the action of the will of the man was involved and there was also the authority of the king to extend grace. In part I agree with you, the parable is incomplete and it does not make mention of the crucifixion but it makes mention of a man who believed that the king had the grace and therefore authority to forgive him. The king forgave him presently and recanted when the man later chose to be judged by the law and not grace. I also agree that you cannot arrive at doctrine from this parable alone much less OSAS.
    – Autodidact
    Oct 30, 2019 at 22:14

To be unforgiving is a sin that can only lead to death.

But if you do not forgive others their sins, your Father will not forgive your sins(Matthew 6:15)

Then Peter came to Jesus and asked, “Lord, how many times shall I forgive my brother or sister who sins against me? Up to seven times?”Jesus answered, “I tell you, not seven times, but seventy-seven times(Matthew 18:21)

Being unforgiving is a sin that will lead nowhere but hell,if the Father do not forgive your sins(for being unforgiving),you will die in your sin.Our Lord tell us to forgive others seventy-seven times.You can't just say:"I don't want to,i'm good".We have to be obedient to Christ and be merciful just as our Father is merciful(Luke 6:36).

It is about loving God with all our heart,soul and mind. It isn't about what we think is good for us, it is about doing anything to be obedient to Jesus.

Can lying to God send you to hell?

When you say the Lord prayer "and forgive us our debts,as we also have forgiven our debtors" with an unforgiving heart,you are basically lying to God.

So let me ask you again,is salvation offered,no matter what you do?Can you receive salvation if you lie in your prayer and do not repent?can you receive salvation if you are unforgiving and do not repent?can you receive salvation if you do not show mercy (as your Father in heaver is merciful to you),and do not repent?

Quote from curiousdanii "we can be confident that we won't be lost even if we do sin by not forgiving others" Can you lie to God and not be sent to hell?When the Father refuse to forgive your sins(for being unforgiving),what do you think is going to happen?

and forgive us our debts,as we also have forgiven our debtors(Matthew 6:12)

But if you do not forgive others their sins, your Father will not forgive your sins(Matthew 6:15)

The right thing is to forgive others and repent before the Lord.

Refusing to listen to Jesus's commands is not wise.

Addressing "we will never stop giving into some of them"

If sin is not a big deal, a thing that can never be stopped, that has no consequence(unless you repent and turn away from it), then why did The Lord tell the invalid to stop sinning?

We know that Jesus speak the truth, He told that person to stop sinning, for he knew that it was possible. If it was impossible, He wouldn't have told him to stop sinning.

Consider the warning that the Lord gave to the invalid about something worse that could happen, if he didn't listen to His command.

"Afterward, Jesus found the man at the temple and said to him, “See, you have been made well. Stop sinning, or something worse may happen to you.”John 5:14

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The parable isn't really about once saved always saved, rather it is about the idea of paying lip service to God's forgiveness through Jesus Christ. Grace is a free gift, but what did the servant say?

“At this [threat of prison] the servant fell on his knees before him. ‘Be patient with me,’ he begged, ‘and I will pay back everything.’ Mat 18:25 NIV

Basically, the servant does NOT believe his master, but has bargained with him.

The master nonetheless attempts to reasure him, saying this:

The servant’s master took pity on him, canceled the debt and let him go. v27

So, we find the master cancelling the debt, letting the servant go, but the servant doesn't believe him. The servant still believed he could repay the master. This is why he orders the other servant who owes him something to repay him.

“But he [the first servant] refused [to forgive]. Instead, he [the first servant] went off and had the man thrown into prison until he could pay the debt. v30

What happens next? Other servants let the master know about the first servant's hypocrisy.

“Then the master called the servant in. ‘You wicked servant,’ he said, ‘I canceled all that debt of yours because you begged me to. v32

Yes, the debt was cancelled, but the servant had bargained and believed he could earn his forgiveness (v26). He no more accepted the free pardon from the master, than he pardoned the servant who owed him.

In other words, the parable is a study in hypocrisy, pride, and lip service to grace.

The servant who has full understanding that he deserves hell and cannot pay back the gift of grace would say to his master thank you. And he would say to his fellow servant I was forgiven and I forgive you too. Nothing you have can be used to repay the grace given me.

So, as to once saved always saved, when you understand the grace given freely and are set free, there is nothing that can destroy you.

PS. Please note the irony at work. How can a man thrown in jail pay back a debt? He can't work; he has no source of income. So, we find the first servant who fails to understand grace imprisoning another servant who also will fail to understand grace (at least in this parable). The wicked enslave, but God sets us free through His mercy and grace through Christ Jesus.

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